Fears of Childbirth and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a major physical, psychological, and social event in every woman’s life. However for some women, instead of experiencing it as a joyful experience, they are crippled by their fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Read on to learn more about this condition and how to cope with it.
Many women find that at times they feel worried or scared of giving birth. This is normal of course, but for some, the anxiety can be so severe it becomes a debilitating fear. Tokophobia is a specific phobia characterized by an intense fear of pregnancy or giving birth. This condition affects up to one in ten women, with some so fearful they have asked for a termination of pregnancy.
Tokophobia can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary is morbid fear of childbirth in a woman, who has no previous experience of pregnancy. Secondary is morbid fear of childbirth developing after a traumatic obstetric event in a previous pregnancy.
Women who experience tokophobia are likely to report experiencing symptoms of panic, including hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, sweating and nausea when confronted with thoughts about or images of pregnancy and delivery. According to scientists, tokophobia can become a factor even before a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, and in some cases it may even prevent a potential mother from ever becoming pregnant. If not treated or looked into, the side effects of tokophobia can become even more intense and damaging over time.
What causes tokophobia?
According to recent studies, some women who experience tokophobia have a previous history of depression, anxiety, and/or trauma (including previous traumatic birth). Tokophobia can also emanate from a variety of factors, most likely due to a fear of pain, depression, or even sexual trauma.
The presence of other psychiatric conditions such as eating disorders can also compound tokophobia, because it can extend the fear to the experience of pregnancy and carrying the child. But for others, the anxiety often stems from the fear of the unknown. Therefore, some women may need support to deal with the changes their bodies naturally undergo while pregnant, as well as support in dealing with the labour and delivery of their child.
Coping with Fear of Pregnancy and Childbirth
To deal with the anxiety of giving birth or carrying a child, it’s helpful to arm yourself with solid knowledge about pregnancy and get the support you need.
Join a pregnancy class
Information increases preparedness and preparedness can decrease anxiety. Enrol in at least one birthing class (get several referrals from friends) and consider attending a weekly group for expectant moms. Ask plenty of questions at your medical appointments to familiarize yourself with the labour and delivery options available to you.
With or without the anxiety, expectant mothers need social support. Be open and honest about what you are going through with those you can trust and love at this can be one of the greatest sources of support for you during this time. Now is not the time to hide your feelings for fear of judgment. Talk about it, explain your feelings to your partner. Maintain open communication with your spouse and other primary sources of support.
Have a birth plan
Coming up with a birth plan may help to ease the anxiety as there is less uncertainty. Discuss your birth plan with your doctor as much as possible. Be sure to talk about labour and delivery options early in your pregnancy and revisit your birth plan often.
Preparing the body and mind is very important, but the most important thing is to keep believing in yourself. Surround yourself with positive stories. Remind yourself of other new challenges you have coped with. Believe that you can give birth. Ask friends and family members to share positive pregnancy and birth stories. Hearing positive feedback can halt intrusive thoughts.
Work with a therapist
If classes, relaxation techniques and social support do little to curb your anxiety and panic, seek professional help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist trained in cognitive behavioural therapy who also sees pregnant women. Strategies such as cognitive restructuring (testing the origins of your emotions for validation and replacing intrusive thoughts with positive ones) and exposures can be helpful in treating specific phobias, but you will need to seek treatment from a licensed professional.
Whenever anxiety strikes, try these few methods to calm yourself down:
- Lie down comfortably on the floor or your bed. Be sure to use pillows to prop yourself up, if necessary.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of four.
- Pay close attention to your stomach rising as you gradually fill your lungs with air.
- Hold for one second.
- Breathe out slowly through your nose for a count of four.
- Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
- Practice daily.
- Creating a safe space in your mind gives you a place to escape when panic strikes. Get comfortable and use your relaxation breathing to get started.
- As you close your eyes, visualize a calming place (it might be somewhere tropical or a beautiful forest).
- Fill your happy place with details as you breathe, and consider introducing a supportive figure in your life (a spouse or close family member).
- Visualization takes some practice and requires a quiet environment, but even five minutes per day can help you create a safe space to revisit when the anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Remember that the female body is designed to handle birth, so of course you too can handle it.